The Truth About Cars » Congress http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Congress http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/news-blog/congress-news-blog/ Too Big To Fail, Too Confused To Operate: Analysis Of 619 Pages Of Cobalt Engineering Documents [w/ Full Text] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/too-big-to-fail-too-confused-to-operate-analysis-of-619-pages-of-cobalt-engineering-documents-w-full-text/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/too-big-to-fail-too-confused-to-operate-analysis-of-619-pages-of-cobalt-engineering-documents-w-full-text/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799138  

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The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released the documents GM submitted for investigation, which includes emails and internal reports documenting GM’s response to reports of their early Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models inadvertently shutting the car “off” while driving due to an ignition cylinder that was, simply, too easy to turn out of the “run” position; and in the case of several accidents, allowed the ignition cylinder to rotate out of the run condition before or during accidents, causing the airbags to not deploy when required.

The documents, totaling 619 pages (some with repeat info), reveal just how deep seated “old GM” was in their cost cutting ways (Driving down supplier costs to the point of sacrificing quality, admittedly poorly designed ignition cylinder, and removing internal quality control on the parts), and just how blind sided “new GM” was during their investigations. It also confirms how suspended engineers Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman were involved in the ignition switch response, and fuzzy problem solving. Full text and an analysis of key documents below.

We already know the basics of how this happened, but it’s still surprising just how ingrained GM was in putting the issue aside. The key issues are these:

  • GM became aware of the ignition issue in the 2001 preproduction Saturn Ion and the 2005 preproduction Chevrolet Cobalt.
  • Gary Altman initiated the report that lead to the insert, and Ray DeGiorgio consulted on the fix and argued against ignition switch changes.
  • Many different options were proposed, including suggestions from Delphi.
  • Cost played a major role in the decision to not recall the ignition switch early on.
  • The later key insert was the result, and was seen not as a fix, but as a “containment.”
  • GM also had very little oversight on parts from Delphi, only relying on Delphi’s incomplete testing.
  • GM’s engineers knowingly put the cars to market with a defective ignition switch.
  • This lead to ISB #05-02-35-007.
  • In 2006, DeGiorgio eventually signed off on design changes for Delphi, that included a stronger spring and plunger for the detent mechanism in the ignition cylinder, which provides a physical resistance between the different key positions.
  • When implemented in 2007, the new ignition cylinders cost less than a dollar per unit more than the original design; $400,000 to retool the production lines. These are the same changes that were deemed “not an acceptable business case” in 2005
  • As company, however, no one knew who signed off on the change until the Melton family lawsuit.
  • In court, DeGiorgio testified that he was unaware of changes to the ignition cylinder that would have effected the detents, only mentioning the key change..
  • Later investigations showed that the Cobalt had a substantial number of airbag warranty claims.
  • Higher level GM representatives broadsided by NHTSA’s investigations and disapproval of their slow reaction to other recent recalls.

First up, Gary Altman’s and Ray Giorgio’s role in the ignition cylinder issue is a problem. In court, Altman claimed that he did not feel that the Melton’s car was “unsafe.” This coming after submitting the initial mechanical complaint about the ignition falling out of run, in 2004:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf
During the investigation, several different approaches to modify the ignition cylinder were brought up to DeGiorgio. All of which were quickly dismissed by DeGiorgio, because the switch was already “very fragile,”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (1)
Later on, all fixes were dropped, as it wasn’t deemed necessary. With a tight deadline and budget, the engineers could not justify any of the fixes at the time, as it wasn’t an “acceptable business case.”

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (2) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (3) docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (4)

In 2006, DeGiorgio finally signed off on a design change for Delphi. The design change included  a stronger spring and longer detent plunger to increase the force needed to switch the key between different positions, along with an unrelated electrical upgrade. In an unexplained move, DeGiorgio did not assign a new part number to the improved switch design. The design change added 90 cents to the parts cost, and about $400,000 in tooling costs.

 

cobalt report 3
docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD047.pdf (1)

But, with this large of a role in the decision to delay the redesigned ignition switch, DeGiorgio claimed that he was not aware of any mechanical changes to the switches during his testimony in the Melton family suit against GM:

docs.house.gov meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD056.pdf
Though, he did sign off on the changes, and worked with Delphi to test batches of ignition cylinders that contained an upgraded PCB (Printed Circuit Board), and detent plunger:

cobalt report 14

democrats.energycommerce.house.gov sites default files documents GM-Commodity-Validation-Sign-Off-2006-4-26.pdf

 

Curiously enough, though, is that GM had very little oversight on Delphi’s quality control, and Delphi did not check the rotational torque needed to turn past the switches detents. GM simply accepted Delphi’s parts and trusted their QC. But with rumored tensions between GM and Delphi, it’s said that cost cutting measures might be to blame as GM forced Delphi to push prices down, sacrificing parts quality. If this were true, GM’s choice to outsource QC to the supplier left them in the dark for too long, preventing them from seeing the immediate effects of their problems with Delphi:

cobalt report 4cobalt report 18

While this was going on, GM released the key insert as a “containment solution;” it would be the minimum needed to alleviate the problem for effected customers. This was chosen over two other modifications to the ignition cylinder, which were seen as a “partial solution” in the case of adding an additional detent mechanism to add more resistance to rotating the key out of park, and a “sure solution” involving moving the ignition switch higher up on the column, using a gear drive system to reach the rotary switch responsible for selecting which electrical circuit to run on. The added gearing would also increase rotational torque, the design stated.
cobalt report 11
cobalt report 12cobalt report 13
In 2007, the NHTSA began to probe into the surprising number of airbag-related complaints, despite “GM’s indications that they see no specific pattern.”
cobalt report 15

The issue was set aside, for the most part, until GM was informed by the Melton suit that there was a possible design change in the switch, based on an investigation into junkyard-found switches from the effected models. The testing showed that there was a noticeable change in detent torque, but no documentation from GM to show the changes. The GM engineers and representatives in the case were caught off guard by this design change, and began an internal investigation. This investigation lead GM engineer Brian Stouffer to find the documents that showed DeGiorgio signing off on design changes with no part number change.

cobalt report 5cobalt report 16
Finally, the most impressive point of this story comes from GM’s reactions to the NHTSA’s investigations. The NHTSA emailed GM asking for clarification on several other recalls, documenting GM’s reactions to other product issues with a disdain for GM’s penchant for doing the least amout possible to avoid full recalls; ie: regional recalls for parts failures in the rust-belt states. Saying that some were broadsided by this information would be an understatement:

cobalt report 19[...]
cobalt report 19

The response by Mike Robinson, VP for environment, energy and safety policy, sums up GM’s perception and confusion over their responses to the Cobalt issue, and several other poor recall responses in the past. “This note from NHTsA, both the content and tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue,” he states, “We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide.”

cobalt report 19
To summarize, GM is its own worst enemy. They responded poorly to incredibly early reports, dismissing the issue too quickly as a casual problem. With reports going back to 2001, during the Saturn Ion development, there is no reason why the switch should have come unmodified to the Cobalt development; never mind the dismissal of the problem before the car was produced. Ray DeGiorgio’s role in this problem is larger than he initially lead on in the Melton case, though his motive in this discrepancy is unknown at this time.

Full text to all 619 pages can be find here.

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Dealers Still Waiting For Replacements, DeGiorgio Linked To Original Design And Upgrade http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/dealers-still-waiting-for-replacements-degiorgio-linked-to-original-design-and-upgrade/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/dealers-still-waiting-for-replacements-degiorgio-linked-to-original-design-and-upgrade/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797362 GM ignition diagram

Automotive News reports dealers are still waiting for the ignition switches meant to replace the out-of-spec switch at the center of the ongoing recall crisis at General Motors. The switch was to have arrived at dealerships beginning this week, yet most dealers are in a “holding pattern” on deliveries. Once the parts do arrive, service bays will begin work on affected customer vehicles immediately before turning toward the used lot, where vehicles under the recall are currently parked until the customer vehicles are fixed.

As for GM seeking help from NASA with its woes, however, The Detroit Bureau learned from NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications Bob Jacobs that his employer “is not working with General Motors on its ignition switch issue”; a separate source claimed “low-level” discussions between the two were taking place, but hasn’t gone any further thus far. He added that while NASA would be more than willing to help GM, a formal request would require some coordination between the agency and both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Justice Department so as to not interfere “with their own, ongoing investigations of the GM ignition switch recall.”

Speaking of the Justice Department, Reuters says five senators, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Barbara Boxer of California, penned a letter asking Attorney General Eric Holder to “intervene in pending civil actions to oppose any action by GM to deny responsibility for damages”:

We write to request your immediate intervention and assistance on behalf of victims of severe damage – financial harm, physical injury, and death – resulting from serious ignition switch defects in General Motors (‘GM’) cars.

The aforementioned actions may be in reference to the liability shield erected upon the automaker’s 2009 exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where “New GM” is only responsible for the claims linked to the switch from June 2009 forward.

That division within the company may be more of a thin line than a 4-inch-thick steel plate, however, as Autoblog reports an investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee uncovered an email exchange between the NHTSA and GM last July to discuss the latter’s “indifferent attitude toward safety issues” face-to-face. The agency cited the automaker’s slow response to urgent matters and preference toward regional recalls over full recalls as two examples of GM not having changed much since leaving bankruptcy.

Bloomberg adds the agency itself didn’t do enough to take GM to task on its attitude toward safety, though, based on a memo unearthed by the committee regarding airbag failures on a number of Chevrolet Cobalts and Saturn Ions with warranty claims being four times’ higher than similar competitors. The decision to investigate those claims was rejected by a review group within the NHTSA, believing the airbag issue “did not stand out” among other incidences of failure.

Automotive News reports the committee also found an email chain that ties GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio — who denied having knowledge of the April 2006 change to the ignition without a change to the part number — with said change. In short: DeGiorgio signed-off on both changes to the spring and plunger to help prevent the slipping issue now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 accidents, as well as on the decision to retain the original number issued to the part he designed for the Saturn Ion as his first project for GM in 2001.

Regarding the Ion, Reuters says the troubled development of the compact vehicle — and the equally troubled relationship between GM and supplier Delphi — may have laid the groundwork for the current recall crisis. The supplier alerted the automaker about the out-of-spec switch, but fearing an embarrassing introduction, money issues, and the possible wrath of then-vice chairman of product development Bob Lutz, GM pressed ahead with the switch as-is.

 

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GM Dealers Deal With Part Backlog, CEO Asked To Back Rental Car Bill http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-dealers-deal-with-part-backlog-ceo-asked-to-back-rental-car-bill/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-dealers-deal-with-part-backlog-ceo-asked-to-back-rental-car-bill/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:03:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791337 ChevyDealership03.jpg

Automotive News reports the repairs of some 2.6 million vehicles affected by the 2014 General Motors ignition switch recall will be delayed by one week as the needed part slowly enters into the automaker’s dealership network. Though most dealers thought they would be receiving the part Monday, GM spokesman Kevin Kelly insisted the part was set to arrive sometime during “the week of April 7″:

We plan to send letters this week informing affected customers that parts are arriving at dealerships and to schedule a service appointment with their dealer. Repairs are likely to begin to follow soon after the customer letter mailing.

Until then, dealerships may face service backlogs, especially with affected vehicles already on the lot that cannot be sold until they are repaired, which can only happen once customer vehicles go through the 30-minute swap. On the other hand, while dealers have noticed some frustration from their customers, the majority of their base was found to be patient with the status of the repair plan.

Over in Washington, D.C., The Detroit Press reports Senator Barbara Boxer of California sent a letter to GM CEO Mary Barra asking her to back a bill that would keep recalled rental cars under recall off of the road. The bill would require affected rentals to be grounded within 24 to 48 hours upon receipt of a safety recall notice, as well as establish a temporary protocol evaluating safety risk if parts are not available right away, and allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the oversight to investigate rental company safety practices for the first time.

Though the bill — named after two sisters who lost their lives in 2004 when their rental car caught fire and crashed into a truck — has seen support by rental companies, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — where GM is a member — has stymied the legislation out of a fear that automakers would be forced to fix rental fleets first before individual-owned vehicles, as well as potential lawsuits from the rental companies over lost revenues.

Detroit Free Press reports the NHTSA is calling upon engineers to be the agency’s eyes and ears in the battle against defects like the one linked to the current recall crisis. Lead attorney Kevin Vincent laid his case out before attendees of this year’s SAE World Congress:

Each manufacturer is actually responsible for identifying defects… and promptly reporting those defects to NHTSA. The message I have delivered to senior lawyers at the automakers is that they need to have practices and procedures in place so that when they find a problem, they will respond.

The first line of defense against safety defects is not my agency — not NHTSA. You are truly the first line of defense… to prevent safety defects from reaching the American public.

The safety agency has been taken to task as of late regarding the GM recall as well as those related to Jeep, and has been asked by the Center for Auto Safety to investigate an airbag deployment issue with 2003 through 2010 Chevrolet Impalas.

Automotive News says the 2014 Chevrolet Equinox and its GMC Terrain twin both received a top safety pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in surviving the group’s new small-overlap crash test designed for midsize SUVs. The results were linked to improvements in the front structure and door-hinge pillars.

Finally, The Detroit News reports GM will pay a dividend of 30 cents per share for Q2 2014 on June 26 to all shareholders of record as of June 10. The dividend is the second consecutive payment made by the automaker to shareholders — the first, worth 30 cents/share for Q1 2014 earnings, was paid last month — and will cost $1.8 billion annually.

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Congress Looks To Revamp Automotive Safety Legislation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/congress-looks-to-revamp-automotive-safety-legislation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/congress-looks-to-revamp-automotive-safety-legislation/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:00:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790065 United States Capitol

In the wake of the 2014 General Motors recall crisis, Congress has sought to make improvements to current United States automotive safety legislation, though a number of hurdles await any pending bills needed to usher change to the automotive industry.

Automotive News reports the pressure for Congress to act quickly is building against the 24-hour news cycle, as former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator David Strickland explained in January:

Time is always the enemy for any legislative effort in response to a crisis. As you move farther and farther away from the crisis, other things happen in the world. It’s difficult to maintain momentum for things that looked incredibly important just a few months earlier.

One piece of legislation would allow the public access to automakers’ early warning reports and for the NHTSA to “disclose its inspection and investigation activities,” though industry insiders see a deathmatch between the two parties over this legislation while regulators fear less reports would be filed should public access come to pass.

Another action would boost the NHTSA’s fining ability, currently capped at $35 million. Though the current cap is short of the Obama administration’s request for a maximum $200 million fine — and in light of the $1.2 billion settlement between Toyota and the Justice Department — Strickland says the agency should have a “higher penalty authority than what it currently has, for deterrent value.” The NHTSA could also decided upon standardizing algorithms determining when an airbag goes off if the industry doesn’t self-regulate first.

However, any legislation would have to go through a number of important representatives and senators, including Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, as well as face the possibility of being attached to must-pass infrastructure bills such as the $302 billion, four-year highway bill proposed by President Barack Obama to provide much-needed repairs and replacements of U.S. roads and bridges.

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NHTSA Asked To Investigate Impala Airbags, GM May Compensate Recall Victims http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/nhtsa-asked-to-investigate-impala-airbags-gm-may-compensate-recall-victims/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/nhtsa-asked-to-investigate-impala-airbags-gm-may-compensate-recall-victims/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 11:59:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=790113 '06-'09_Chevrolet_Impala_Taxicab

Bloomberg reports the Center for Auto Safety, citing a government petition from former General Motors researcher Donald Friedman, is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open a defect investigation into 2003 – 2010 Chevrolet Impalas over a glitch in the car’s software that could “misread a passenger’s weight,” preventing frontal airbags from deploying. The agency has 143 records of fatalities linked to failed airbags in the Impala, 98 of which noted the occupants were wearing seat belts at time of death.

The request reflects growing concern over the algorithms used in advanced airbags, designed to meet strengthened U.S. regulations in 2003 after previous airbags were found in 300 cases to prove fatal to small adults and children due to excessive force upon deployment, and where improvements could be made.

Going in-depth regarding the April 2006 sign-off of the improved version of the out-of-spec ignition switch linked to the ongoing 2014 GM recall crisis, Automotive News found that while midlevel engineer Ray DeGiorgio put his signature upon what turned out to be the validation sign-off presented before the Senate hearing last week, former engineers have noted that said document was merely placing “a bow” on a package built upon by several engineers before presentation to GM. The resulting paper trail could shed more light on how the decision came to be made, as the anonymous engineers told the publication said decision to change the part would need to go through several checks and balances before signing-off on the upgraded part.

As for out-of-spec parts in general, Automotive Industry Action Group senior program manager for quality Scott Gray says that while a part may be “out of tolerance,” it may not be “the root cause of a failure” unless said part “affects a component’s fit, form or function.”

At that point, the part would go through two industry-standard protocols: Failure Mode Effects Analysis, and Production Part Approval Process. The first is a constantly updated document that gives engineers the tools needed to evaluate the out-of-spec part and related components in determining where problems could arise prior to approving a design. The second, used by suppliers, determines whether or not the part can be built, with automakers paying for tooling only upon successful completion. Further, if even a single tiny change occurs with the part, the entire part must undergo the protocol again.

CNN Money reports GM is debating on whether or not to compensate affected customers whose relatives were either injured or killed in recall-related accidents prior to the automaker’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. Should GM do so, the liability shield established in the bankruptcy would fall, opening itself to 2,500 lawsuits left behind with “Old GM” in so doing.

Finally, Autoblog Green reports Chevrolet will make an announcement today regarding the next-gen Volt involving a boost of 1,400 jobs and $450 million spent in preparing both the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Brownstown Township battery plant for the updated EV. Speculation of what will be announced include a new platform for the 2016 Volt to an all-new unnamed EV, as well as Opel receiving a vehicle priced lower than the Ampera.

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GM Adds Clinton Media Director To Crisis Team http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-adds-clinton-media-director-to-crisis-team/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-adds-clinton-media-director-to-crisis-team/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 19:27:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787369 Original 5 tower complex, John Portman, 1977

In an interview with New York Magazine, consumer advocate Ralph Nader said General Motors CEO Mary Barra has “a good opportunity” to make serious changes to the corporate cost culture that gave rise to the 2014 ignition recall crisis. Suggestions include appointing an independent ombudsman with a direct line to the president and CEO for engineers who need to speak out about possible problems without having to go through “cost-concerned bosses,” as well as holding accountable all involved in any cover-up of any potential product issues.

Nader also believes the federal government should go after personal prosecutions of those tied to the current recall, but adds that unless the media keeps putting the pressure on the Justice Department to do so, the only thing that could come is a settlement in the vein of the one reached between the agency and Toyota earlier this month.

As for where Barra was during the 14 years it took for the recall to surface, Forbes wove her 34-year-long résumé with General Motors into the recall timeline. In short: Barra would have been made aware of the ignition switch problem as early as 2011, when then-CEO Dan Akerson made her head of global product development, yet it was only in December of 2013 — when the torch was passed from Akerson to Barra — when the new CEO was presented with an analysis of the issue linked to the Chevrolet Cobalt; the recall decision would be presented to Barra by product development chief Mark Reuss at the end of January 2014.

Detroit Free Press reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received 200,000 from GM in response to the 107-question survey aimed to drill down what had happened leading up to the recall, as explained in a statement issued by the automaker:

The company has submitted some 200,000 pages of documents and will provide today answers to nearly 65% of the questions. GM is cooperating fully with NHTSA and is keeping the agency apprised at every step of its progress as it works to respond to the remaining questions within the Special Order.

The agency will release the documents upon vetting, a process that could take weeks to accomplish.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the task force appointed by the Obama Administration to manage GM’s bankruptcy proceedings were not made aware of the out-of-spec ignition and subsequent reports linked to its failure. The task force spent more time focusing on what brands needed to be cut and how pensions and health care would be handled, with then-current product-liability claims — totaling $414 million pre-bankruptcy — given a broad look without looking ahead toward future claims.

Within the Capitol, the nation’s lawmakers are considering higher fines and criminal liability in the wake of the two congressional hearings earlier this week. Senator Jay Rockerfeller of West Virginia plans to propose an update to the 2000 TREAD Act in the aim of giving the NHTSA more firepower to take automakers to task over failures to properly and quickly handle potential problems, while regulators would like to boost the agency’s fine limit from $35 million to $300 million.

Back in Detroit, GM has hired crisis-communications expert and former director of media affairs for the Clinton Administration Jeff Eller to join the growing team of experienced crisis managers — including Kenneth Feinberg and Anton Valukas — assembled to guide the automaker through the ongoing recall debacle. Eller worked on the Firestone-Ford crisis in 2000, and will have a number of GM’s allies inside the Beltway on his side.

GM’s partner in the maelstrom, Delphi, may emerge less unscathed if the supplier’s stronger bankruptcy protections hold according to Reuters. Unlike the automaker, Delphi did not assume successor liability during its 2009 bankruptcy proceedings, forcing lawyers to convince any judge who hears their cases that Delphi covered-up the design flaw, and thus, should force “New Delphi” into becoming liable.

Speaking of lawsuits, Bloomberg reports U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, Texas is preparing to consider issuing an order to GM to instruct all affected consumers to park their vehicles until the flaw is fixed. The order is part of a class-action lawsuit filed by Robert Hilliard on behalf of Charles and Grace Silvas, seeking as much as $10 billion in lost resale value for the vehicles under the recall. The Detroit News adds Hilliard sent an email to Barra with evidence from an affidavit illustrating that even with the key stripped down to the bone, the switch will still shut the vehicle off, including the airbag system.

Finally, Reuters reports GM dealerships may have more than polar vortices to weather on the sales floor as a result of the recall. Dealers have reported fielding as many as 50 calls per day from concerned consumers over what to do with their affected vehicles, as well as offering more rental cars and taking in more trade-ins. Spokesman Jim Cain offered his view on the situation facing dealers:

Time will tell. In the long term, we will be judged on how we take care of customers. We have advertising incentives and other tools to use if there’s evidence that sales in the short term may be impacted. But we haven’t seen that.

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Barra Testifies Before US Senate Subcommittee http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barra-testifies-before-us-senate-subcommittee/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barra-testifies-before-us-senate-subcommittee/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:55:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=786625 U.S. senator accuses GM of 'culture of cover-up'

On the second and final day of testimony before Congress, The Detroit Press reports the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee fired several volleys at General Motors CEO Mary Barra over her lack of answers or greater action during the ongoing GM ignition recall crisis.

Finding no allies from either side of the aisle, Barra faced tough questions and criticisms from the members of the subcommittee, with the toughest attacks drawn from subcommittee head Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. The senator proclaimed former engineer Ray DeGiorgio “repeatedly lied” about knowledge of the April 2006 fix of the out-of-spec ignition switch, citing GM’s “culture of cover-up” as encouragement for egregious violations of the public trust.

Barra’s alleged lack of knowledge of the issues surrounding the switch recall came back to haunt her when Senator Barbara Boxer of California declared the CEO “didn’t know anything about anything,” and wondered why someone with the resume Barra has could not know anything during the 33 years she had been a part of General Motors.

Other highlights from the Senate hearing include:

  • Barra not committing to when GM’s own investigator, Anton Valukas, could be made available for questioning by the Senate, saying the decision was his to make
  • Barra not knowing how many lawsuits have been filed in relation to the out-of-spec switch, nor having been counseled by GM’s general counsel
  • Barra stating no one involved with the recall still under GM’s employ had been fired, would take action if internal investigation determined as such
  • Senator Dean Heller of Nevada wanting supplier Delphi to testify
  • Barra clarifying her comment to the House about sharing information from the internal investigation
  • GM agreeing to share documents provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with the subcommittee

Moving over to The White House, the Obama administration aims to do all they can to get a handle on the case before them, as Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest informed reporters aboard Air Force One during the President’s visit to Ypsilanti, Mich.:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — or NHTSA — has opened a formal investigation to whether GM shared the information they had about this issue as quickly as they should. Secretary Foxx has also asked the inspector general of the Department of Transportation to conduct an audit to provide a single, comprehensive review of NHTSA’s work in this case.

Finally, The Detroit News posits that Barra’s legacy — and that of General Motors — would long be haunted by nine words uttered by an unknown GM engineer in 2005 over fixing the out-of-spec switch: “None of the solutions represents an acceptable business case.”

On the lawsuit front, attorney Dana Taschner — one of the lawyers involved in the 15 lawsuits filed in federal court on behalf of affected Chevrolet Cobalt owners — wants the cases consolidated and sent before U.S. District Judge James Selina in Santa Ana, Calif., according to Bloomberg. Tascher’s reasoning is that Selina, who is presiding over the cases linked to Toyota’s unintentional acceleration debacle, is the right judge for the job of taking GM to task:

The scope of the expanding recall and number of cars and consumers involved will result in a high volume of lawsuits filed in multiple jurisdictions warranting coordinated or consolidated proceeding.

Detroit Free Press reports safety advocate and chairman emeritus of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Joan Claybrook is calling for reform from both GM and the NHTSA. Regarding the former, Claybrook believes Barra “has more power than any GM executive probably ever had,” and could lead the reform path toward a focus on safety over costs.

As for the latter, Claybrook — who led the agency between 1977 and 1981 — wants the NHTSA to have more resources available to do its duty to the public, change the complaint-filing process for ease-of-use by consumers, and be granted the authority to purse criminal charges against automakers who fail to recall dangerous products.

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Barra, Friedman Testify Before US House Committee http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barra-friedman-testify-before-us-house-committee/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/barra-friedman-testify-before-us-house-committee/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 14:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=786393 Mary Barra

General Motors CEO Mary Barra and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting administrator David Friedman both testified before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee in the first of two congressional hearings focused on GM’s 2014 recall of an ignition switch whose issues the automaker nor the agency chose to act upon in a swift manner in the decade leading up to the recall.

The Detroit News reports the hearing between the committee and Barra lasted two and a half hours, and while the atmosphere was calm for the most part, the elusive answers Barra gave to some questions proved frustrating to the bipartisan committee. A possible reason for the vague responses provided by Barra: Any incorrect answers could come back to haunt the company via a charge of misleading Congress by the Justice Department, who is already conducting an investigation into GM’s handling of the recall.

She also pleaded her case for patience from the federal government while the internal investigation into the recall continues, and repeatedly stood by her talking points throughout the questioning. However, when the committee asked if GM would commit to delivering the final report from the internal investigation to Congress, Barra said her company would turn over “what’s appropriate.”

Meanwhile, she revealed GM had hired attorney Kenneth Feinberg to guide the company’s executives for the next 30 to 60 days into deciding how the automaker will proceed to do “the right thing” by their customer base. Feinberg, who helped establish compensation funds for those affected by 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill, may direct GM to create such a fund for affected owners whose vehicles were involved in crashes prior to the company’s bankruptcy filing in 2009, though Barra said she couldn’t commit to such a fund under questioning, opting to let Feinberg find “the best way forward.”

Following Barra’s testimony, Friedman took his turn before the House committee, defending his agency’s decision not to move forward with a formal investigation into the ignition switch issue, citing lack of data from General Motors in 2007.

He also explained that the NHTSA had voiced concerns about a number of problems GM hadn’t disclosed, such as the silent part-swap in April 2006 or the automaker’s talks with Delphi over air bags. In turn, the committee asked Friedman why his agency missed a number of red flags and failed to connect the dots in what the agency did learn from their dealings with GM. He said his agency followed proper protocol in its final decision in that there was insufficient information to press forward with a formal investigation. Friedman added that the NHTSA aims to improve this process, as well as increasing penalties for actions such as those demonstrated by GM.

The families affected by the recall witnessed the proceedings from the back of the hearing room, hoping to receive satisfactory answers from Barra as reminders of what the automaker’s poor choices had cost them hung above their heads. One of the affected, Mary Ruddy of Scranton, Penn., put it thusly:

I did not care for the answers from Ms. Barra. I thought she was very evasive, and if she’’s that evasive with the United States government… then how can we expect them to be honest with the general public.

Ruddy’s husband, Leo, also bemoaned Barra’s tactics before the committee, summing up the experience as if “it was like talking to Sgt. Schultz ["Hogan's Heroes"] — ‘I know nothing.’”

The Ruddys were among the families who met with members of Congress before a press conference calling for the establishment of a victims’ compensation fund, pulling affected vehicles off the road, strengthen current auto safety legislation, and a criminal investigation of GM by the Justice Department.

Finally, though the Chevrolet Silverado was knocked off of its pedestal by Ram’s offerings since 1999, Automotive News reports the fullsize pickup and its GMC Sierra twin helped boost GM’s overall U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in March by 4 percent to 256,047 vehicles. Overall retail sales also gained in March, rising 7 percent compared to the previous year.

As for the twins, Chevrolet’s sales rose 7 percent in March while GMC experienced a 21 percent growth, all of which is setting the place for upcoming product launches later this year, according to GM U.S. vice president of sales operations Kurt McNeil:

GM’s retail sales, like the weather and the economy as a whole, have been on an improving trend since early February. We expect to see solid economic growth in the months ahead, with the job market, household income and consumer spending all showing positive signs.

It is a strong backdrop for the launch of our all-new heavy-duty pickups, large SUVs and other new products, like the Cadillac ATS coupe coming this summer.

Transaction prices also went up in March, coming out on a record average of $34,000, as well as a 5 percent increase in commercial fleet sales; fleet sales fell by 5 percent in a planned reduction by the automaker.

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GM Recalls 1.3 Million Additional Vehicles As Barra Heads To D.C. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-recalls-1-3-million-additional-vehicles-as-barra-heads-to-d-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/gm-recalls-1-3-million-additional-vehicles-as-barra-heads-to-d-c/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:07:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785569 GM

The Detroit News reports General Motors CEO Mary Barra boarded a commercial flight from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Sunday in order to prepare for two separate hearings before Congress regarding her company’s handling of the ongoing 2014 recall crisis. While in the nation’s capital, she also met with 25 family members whose relatives were killed in crashes linked to the ignition switch behind the recall.

CNN Money adds GM is about to reveal the names of the 13 people who lost their lives due to catastrophic failure linked to the defective part. The information will be made available to the public, with sensitive information — corporate secrets and personal data — redacted prior to publication. The information is part of a request by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due April 3.

As for what Barra and NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman plan to say before the House and Senate hearings, Automotive News reports Friedman is standing firm on his agency’s effort to “properly carry out its safety mission based on the data available to it and the process it followed” in prepared remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Barra reiterates her position on the events leading up to the recall and subsequent actions moving forward:

When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.

Automotive News also put forth four key issues Barra and Friedman will have to explain before Congress and the general public:

  • How GM’s multiple internal investigations failed to lead to a recall sooner
  • Why NHTSA failed to launch an investigation, despite signs that a faulty switch might be causing airbags not to deploy
  • Whether and how GM’s vehicle-safety protocols have changed
  • Whether GM’s internal processes were violated or laws were broken

Tying into the fourth issue, House Democrats have found and named the engineer behind the 2006 ignition redesign as Ray DeGiorgio, who denied in a 2013 court deposition having knowledge that the part was changed. They also penned a letter to Barra stating the redesigned switch still didn’t meet spec, based on information provided by supplier Delphi confirming the switches meant for 2008 – 2011 models tested poorly alongside the switch approved in 2002 now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 crashes.

Automotive News also posits the reason behind the NHTSA not pushing forward on a recall sooner was due to a heavy focus on child deaths linked to airbags. When GM introduced a smart airbag system in their vehicles in the 2000s, the agency focused on whether or not the airbags were doing their job to protect children placed in the front seat, with the goal of assessing “real world” performance while spotting “unusual circumstances” — such as the flawed ignition switch behind the recall — that would allow for “early identification of potential problems,” according to a 2004 statement by former agency boss Chip Chidester.

In new recall news, GM recalled 1.3 million vehicles made between 2004 and 2010 whose power steering could suddenly lose electric power, with the automaker aware of “some crashes and injuries” tied to the steering. Vehicles affected include: Chevrolet Malibu, Malibu Maxx, non-turbo HHR and Cobalt; Saturn Aura and Ion; and Pontiac G6.

As for reporting issues that could lead to a recall, GM leads the way in filing early-warning reports to the NHTSA with 6,493 reports between 2005 and 2007; Chrysler and Toyota filed around 1,300 in the same period, while Honda filed 290. However, the cause behind the numbers is in how each automaker follows the 2000 TREAD Act, with GM setting an extremely low threshold for reporting in comparison to other automakers.

Finally, a number of lawsuits are being aimed directly at dismantling the liability protection GM’s 2009 bankruptcy provided to “New GM.” The tactics range from securities fraud and loss of resale value, to wrongful death.

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GM Adds 824k Vehicles To Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-adds-824k-vehicles-to-recall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-adds-824k-vehicles-to-recall/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785137 2009_Saturn_Sky_Redline_Ruby_Red_Limited_Edition

Over the weekend, General Motors called back an additional 824,000 vehicles whose ignition switches could slip out of the “on” position, cutting power to the engine, brakes and air bags. According to Automotive News, the recall now affects Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs, Pontiac G5s, and Saturn Ions and Skys made between 2008 and 2011. The reasoning is that while those vehicles were made after the switch was improved in April 2006, some 90,000 vehicles may have received the faulty switch during repairs.

In addition, Detroit Free Press reports GM issued a stop sale order and recall of 190,000 2013 – 2014 Chevrolet Cruzes in the United States and Canada fitted with the gasoline-powered 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo-four. The right front axle half shaft could “fracture and separate without warning” under normal driving conditions, according to the automaker.

Meanwhile, 490,200 2014 Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras, as well as 2015 Chevrolet Tahoes and Suburbans and GMC Yukon XLs and Yukons, are being recalled in order to fix a transmission oil cooler line that, if not “securely seated and transmission oil leaks from the fitting,” may cause oil to spill onto hot surfaces, resulting in a fire such as the one experienced earlier this month during a test drive in California earlier this month.

The few who purchased or leased a 2014 Cadillac ELR may also need to bring their vehicles in for service. Detroit Free Press says ELRs made between Sept. 26, 2013 and Valentine’s Day 2014 without adaptive cruise control may suffer from an electronic stability system unable to perform certain diagnostics that would alert the driver if the system was either partially or fully disabled, which then could lead to a crash. GM will recalibrate the electronic brake control module for free in their recall notice, set to be issued April 17.

Speaking of Cadillac, Automotive News reports brand chief and former head lobbyist Bob Ferguson has been sent to Washington, D.C. ahead of two separate congressional hearings over the 2014 ignition recall crisis, helping the automaker to prepare. Though insiders have speculated Ferguson could once again return to D.C. permanently as GM’s vice president of of global public policy, the automaker offered nothing more than what Ferguson was doing for them currently.

Bloomberg, Automotive News and Detroit Free Press report GM has had a difficult time with the ignition switch used in their small cars. The switch had been altered three times in five years, beginning with the inability to start 2003 – 2006 Saturn Ions thanks to a defect related to the car’s Passlock theft-deterrent system. The fix, which included a new part number, led to the headache currently being experienced by the automaker.

However, the fix that would have cured the new switch’s ability to accidentally shut vehicles down — such as the Chevrolet Cobalt — was cancelled in 2005 by GM on the words of a project engineering manager who cited costly tooling and piece prices as reasons not to press forward. The part was approved by GM in 2002, despite Delphi — who made the part for GM — noting the switch did not meet specification, nor did the 2006 ignition that, while preventing the slip issue linked to 31 crashes and 13 deaths, was still below what General Motors had requested.

As for the agency responsible for pushing this issue into the spotlight much sooner than 2014, Detroit Free Press says a review by the Associated Press of complaints made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration between 2005 and 2014 found 164 drivers of 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts experienced their vehicle shutting down with no warning; only the Toyota Corolla of the same vintage — recalled during the government’s investigation into Toyota in 2010 — saw more complaints.

In addition, an unnamed official who headed the NHTSA’s Defects Assessment Division recommended in 2007 an investigation as to why air bags in 2003 – 2006 Cobalts and Ions didn’t deploy, stating complaints made to the agency in 2005, along with early warning data gathered from related repairs and injuries, justified such action.

Bloomberg adds the cars linked to the faulty switch were marketed to first-time drivers, whose inexperience behind the wheel may have added to the chain of events leading to the number of crashes and fatalities documented thus far. Though GM stated in 2005 the driver could regain control by shifting to neutral and restarting, auto-safety experts and driving instructors, such as American Drivers Traffic Safety Education Association CEO Allen Robinson, said the scenario presented by the ignition failure would be hard to manage by most drivers:

It’s going to be a real problem and most people are not going to know how to deal with it.These sorts of mechanical failures are so infrequent that you can’t really prepare people for them.

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GM Call Center Sees Double, Upton Prepares For Hearing http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-call-center-sees-double-upton-prepares-for-hearing/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-call-center-sees-double-upton-prepares-for-hearing/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 13:16:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=782793 Pontiac_Solstice

Automotive News posits an earlier recall would have prevented a majority of fatalities tied to the 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt’s ignition switch. According to their research, seven of the eight deaths occurred after April of 2006, when the improved switch was quietly introduced into the supply stream; one of the four fatalities linked to 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ions was found to have occurred after the April 2006 improved part introduction, as well.

Among other findings, only one of the eight Cobalt fatalities did not factor alcohol or seat belts into the equation, two of the eight deaths — one under “Old GM,” one under “New GM” — led to lawsuits that were settled prior to the February 2014 recall, and that some of the families found in their research never had any contact with the automaker.

The findings come from an AN article that examined the timing of various fatalities involving crashes with the Chevrolet Cobalt, with AN’s Nick Bunkley writing

“The research indicates that all of the deaths involved cars built before the switch was redesigned; had GM simultaneously elected to recall the cars, repairs could have been performed before a majority of the fatal crashes happened. It also shows that only one of the 12 deaths occurred after GM emerged from bankruptcy protection in July 2009.”

The Detroit News reports United States Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut penned a letter to General Motors CEO Mary Barra urging her to warn drivers of affected 2003 – 2007 Chevrolet, Pontiac and Saturn products to park their vehicles until the ignition switch linked to the recall is fixed, and the vehicles no longer “present urgent danger” to the general public:

I urge you to issue a stronger warning to drivers of recalled vehicles of the acknowledged risk they are facing, including a warning not to drive recalled cars. This warning should be issued as soon as possible — in advance of your testimony before the subcommittee.

The letter follows a similar call from Texas lawyer Robert Hilliard, who is representing 15 families in a class action suit before federal court, claiming that the public need not even drive the affected vehicles to be affected by the recall. The suit, headed by the Silvas family over loss of resale value in opposition to loss of life as experienced by the other families, will be heard April 4.

Bloomberg reports calls to GM’s Customer Engagement Center in Warren, Mich. — opened in 2013 to improve service and customer retention — have doubled during peak hours since the recall began, as explained by senior vice president for global quality and customer experience Alicia Boler-Davis:

Since GM announced the ignition switch recall, the center has seen more than double the amount of calls during peak times from typical daily call volumes. Up to 100 dedicated, specially trained advisors have been available to quickly assist customers with questions on this issue alone, bringing down the average wait time to less than a minute.

Boler-Davis is among those under the gun by customers and critics alike, Detroit Free Press reports, along with GM vice president of global engineering John Calabrese, global product chief Mark Reuss, and vice president of global safety Jeff Boyer. For her, the customer center is one of the ways GM is hoping to restore confidence in their products:

It shows that we’re available, we’re here to help. We’re wanting to be accessible to them, whether it’s through telephone, whether its through social media, whether they’re wanting to send us e-mails.

The appointment of Boyer to the newly created global safety post also aims to improve the automaker’s image before the general public, according to Reuss:

Jeff is a passionate safety zealot, and he really has been involved with just about every part of the car, including interiors and the computer data engineering of safety.

Back in Washington, D.C., U.S. Representative and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton of Michigan told Detroit Free Press that he and his colleagues were “very surprised with the revelations that came forward the last couple of weeks” from the various investigations into the recall crisis, and plans to spend the weekend with his staff poring over more than 5,000 documents supplied by GM related to the recall prior to the hearing with Barra and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting administrator David Friedman April 1:

I don’t know what the response is going to be. Those questions are going to get asked on Tuesday. We don’t have any predisposed conclusions on where this is going. Everything is on the table. We’re going to find out the answers as we should.

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GM To Go Before Senate Panel, As Allegations Of Hardball Tactics Surface http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-to-go-before-senate-panel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-to-go-before-senate-panel/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:16:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=781289 Chevrolet Cobalt Sedan

General Motors CEO Mary Barra and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting director David Friedman will testify before the United States Senate on April 2 about their respective parties’ handling of the ongoing GM ignition recall crisis just as two senators introduced a bill expanding public access to safety filings made by all automakers to the federal government.

Automotive News reports Barra and Friedman will take questions from the Senate Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection panel. Their joint appearance follows their first before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee the day prior. Both hearings are expected to seek answers to questions surrounding how both GM and the NHTSA responded in the move to recall the defective ignition switch found in a handful of 2003 – 2007 GM models.

Automotive News also says Senators Ed Markley of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a bill which would require automakers to submit the first document of a fatality involving one of their products to NHTSA, who would then make said document and subsequent documents available to the public through an easy-to-use database. The bill reinforces the 2000 TREAD Act’s requirement of early-warning reports to be submitted to the agency, and to make that information accessible to the public.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reviewed 19 of 23 reported fatalities linked to the defective ignition switch, and found that GM either dismissed their link to the fatalities in question, or settled out of court under the veil of confidentiality. In one case, threatened to sue for reimbursement of legal fees unless lawsuits were dropped

One of the suits in question, settled between Georgia lawyer Lance Cooper and GM in 2013 — is finding new life as part of a 12-way lawsuit filed in San Francisco against the automaker over allegations that not every car affected by the defective part has been recalled, according to Automotive News. At the time of the suit, Cooper obtained hundreds of documents related to the part, along with depositions from a handful of engineers responsible, some of which are now making a public appearance in the new suit for the first time.

Separately, USA Today reports Alabama resident Steve Smith and attorney Jere Beasley have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Smith’s daughter, Aubrey Wallace Williams. Williams lost her life late last year when her 2006 Cobalt’s ignition switched off, causing loss of control that led to her crossing in front of an 18-wheel log truck. The suit comes after the recall news prompted a new investigation into Williams’ accident.

Finally, Detroit Free Press reports Niharika Taskar Ramdev will become GM’s new treasurer, who will oversee the automaker’s capital market activities and investor relations. Ramdev will report to newly appointed CFO Chuck Stevens, who says her main focus will be on “maintaining [GM's] fortress balance sheet, achieving investment grade credit ratings and developing a sustainable capital allocation strategy.”

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Congressional Hearings Loom As Switch Swap Raises Questions At GM http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/congressional-hearings-loom-as-switch-swap-raises-questions-at-gm/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/congressional-hearings-loom-as-switch-swap-raises-questions-at-gm/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 13:30:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=780281 800px-Pontiac_G5_coupe

General Motors is facing two separate lawsuits related to failures of the ignition switch recalled last month, while also preparing to bring their case before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee next month, led by a representative who honed his skills upon Firestone.

Meanwhile, reports of a quiet swap between the defective ignition switch and an improved switch in 2006 – a swap that may have violated internal protocols -may have serious repercussions for GM and now-bankrupt supplier Delphi.

Finally, a test drive gone wrong results in a GMC Yukon left to burn, whose prompt investigation is only the beginning of a long learning process in how GM handles safety in the future.

Reuters and Just-Auto report two lawsuits were filed against GM over the weekend in Minnesota and California. The former, filed in state court on behalf of three teenage girls severely injured or killed in a 2006 crash involving a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, is considered to be the first wrongful death lawsuit since the recall was issued.  Robert Hilliard of Hilliard Munoz Gonzales is seeking $50,000 for each of the families affected, and names “New GM” as defendant.

The second, filed in federal court as a national class action by Michaels Law Group, cites fraudulent behavior on GM’s part over the ignition switch and subsequent recall. Founding firm member Johnathan Michaels called the automaker’s actions “an unfortunate chapter” in United States history, and proclaimed GM “allowed products to be put in the stream of commerce, knowing that people would die.”

Reuters also reports U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, penned a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Department of Justice to demand GM establish a fund “to fully compensate consumers who suffered injury, death or damage” as a result of the ignition switch. He also suggested said fund could be applied while the DOJ conducts their investigation into the recall, one of many being conducted by various federal parties, including the Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Bloomberg says Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, one of 32 House Republicans to back the 2008 bailouts and former co-chair of the Congressional Automotive Congress, will be take part in hearings on April 1 when the committee meets with GM CEO Mary Barra and other executives in a hearing to discuss what happened with the recall. Fourteen years earlier, Upton took on Ford and Firestone over the Explorer’s defective tires, resulting in the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act of 2000 now affecting both General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Regarding the NHTSA, the Detroit Free Press reports Senator Dean Heller of Nevada sent a letter to agency acting head David Friedman asking for answers by the end of the month as to why the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation “declined to forward in both 2007 and 2010 on any vehicle recall recommendation” despite receiving direct access to necessary information from GM. Heller also wants to know what if any threshold complaints need to cross before further investigation is taken.

Back home, GM’s knowledge of the defective component — and its subsequent silence — may also claim Delphi under the wave of red flags the automaker ignored at its peril. Automotive News says the litigation protection established for the supplier during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy process could fall if Delphi was found to have committed fraud by not disclosing their part in the ignition defect during proceedings.

Within the Renaissance Center, USA Today says GM learned in 2007 of a 2005 fatality when a Maryland teen, Amber Marie Rose, lost control of her Cobalt and crashed into a tree while intoxicated. The report noted the airbags had not gone off as intended, with the cause linked to the switch set to “accessory” instead of “on.”

Meanwhile, Automotive News reports the in-house-designed switch — the result of the automaker wanting to do more on its own amid rising warranty costs in the mid-1990s — didn’t meet the specs required of it until its redesign in 2006, nine years after engineers were asked to design the part. However, the improved part retained its old part number when former GM engineers claim it shouldn’t have, while GM remained quiet on the matter until 2013 when a wrongful death lawsuit from Georgia started the ball rolling on the issue.

In the wake of the ongoing maelstrom, GM appointed long-serving engineer Jeff Boyer to the newly created position of vice president of global safety. Boyer will report to Barra on all safety concerns and recall decisions. Automotive News says this is just the first in a series of moves the automaker is taking to show how it has changed since emerging from bankruptcy and government ownership over the past few years, but has a long road ahead in making substantial progress regarding its long-standing bureaucratic culture.

Finally, The Los Angeles Times reports a 2015 GMC Yukon taken for a test drive in Anaheim this weekend suffered from what Anaheim Police Department Lieutenant Tim Schmidt says was “some oil leak or some fluid leaking” during the drive, leading to a catastrophic fire once the driver pulled over upon losing control of the vehicle. Autoblog adds GM will be investigating the matter “very soon,” as per the words of spokesman Alan Adler. No one was hurt in the incident.

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NADA, House Committee Press CFPB On Lending Rules http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/nada-house-committee-press-cfpb-on-lending-rules/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/nada-house-committee-press-cfpb-on-lending-rules/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 09:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776401 CFPB

Uncertainty on auto lending rules resulting from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s methodology behind consent orders issued to lenders found overcharging or otherwise misleading minority borrowers has prompted calls from the National Automobile Dealers Association and the House Financial Services Committee for a detailed explanation from the bureau on said methodology.

Automotive News reports complaints made by NADA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the auto finance industry and Congress regarding the CFPB’s enforcement of consumer protections, all citing a lack of clarity behind the enforcement, as NADA general counsel Andy Koblenz explained during a panel discussion at a conference held this week by the U.S. Chamber:

It’s almost like the cop standing by the side of the road, pulling people over for speeding. Someone says, “OK, I want to comply. What’s the speed limit?” And they say, “I’m not going to tell you. After the fact, I’ll look back and I’ll tell you whether you were speeding.” That’s not fair, and it’s ultimately going to drive credit out of the market.

In 2013, the bureau issued guidance upon findings of dealerships charging minority consumers higher dealer reserve than other similar borrowers, proclaiming the action a “disparate impact,” and thus, illegal discrimination.

The specific charge prompted the House Financial Services Committee to send a letter to CFPB director Richard Cordray requesting a thorough explanation on the bureau’s methodology for determining an occurrence of disparate impact, with answers due no later than March 13; the deadline passed with no response, and a subpoena may soon follow.

In defense, CFPB deputy director Steve Antonakes said the bureau has, and intends to use in full, five regulatory tools in fighting disparate impacts: rulemaking; consumer complaints; supervision and examination; enforcement; and consumer education. Further, the bureau itself has said in the past it has used proxies in determining legally protected classes in lending.

However, Capital One chief counsel Andy Navarette — whose employer refunded $140 million for alleged misleading marketing involving product add-ons for credit cards after the bureau issued a consent order to the lender — would like to see the CFPB make “a broader use of the rulemaking tool” in future decisions related to auto lending:

You have 5,000 auto lenders in this country. Tackling individual institutions via supervision or enforcement may change behaviors at those individual companies. But it’s not going to move markets in a way that actually produces consistent rules of the road for the industry.

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US Justice Dept, House Panel To Investigate GM Ignition Recall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/us-justice-dept-house-panel-to-investigate-gm-ignition-recall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/us-justice-dept-house-panel-to-investigate-gm-ignition-recall/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 11:12:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=770273 GM-building-US-Flag

Things are going from bad to worse for General Motors amid the fallout related to the long-delayed recall of 1.6 million vehicles worldwide over a faulty ignition switch installed between 2003 and 2007, as both the U.S. Justice Department and a House panel plan to conduct separate investigations into the matter.

Automotive News and Bloomberg report the Justice Department’s investigation will focus on whether or not GM violated criminal or civil laws in failing to alert regulatory bodies sooner than they had about the switch, with lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s Southern District of New York office leading the charge.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will determine if either the automaker or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — who is also conducting an investigation into the recall via a 107-question survey due April 3 — missed anything “that could have flagged [the] problems sooner,” according to Representative Fred Upton, who also added:

If the answer is yes, we must learn how and why this happened, and then determine whether this system of reporting and analyzing complaints that Congress created to save lives is being implemented and working as the law intended.

On top of the aforementioned inquiries, GM itself has hired Jenner & Block LLP chairman Anton Valukas to head an internal investigation into the handling of the recall. Valukas was the appointed examiner for the Justice Department in the inquiry of Lehman Brothers over the financial institution’s downfall in the run-up to the Great Recession in late 2008.

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How Much Privacy Will The Driver Privacy Act Provide? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/how-much-privacy-will-the-driver-privacy-act-provide/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/how-much-privacy-will-the-driver-privacy-act-provide/#comments Sun, 19 Jan 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=702690 1970s-custom-van

A bipartisan group of United States Senators has revealed the “Driver Privacy Act”, which is supposed to put you back in charge of your black-box data in your car. But how effective will that legislation be?

The bill is sponsored by John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Cosponsors of the bill include Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Angus King (I-Maine), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Mazie Hirano (D-Hawaii) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Quoth Senator Hoeven,

To address privacy concerns regarding the device, the Hoeven-Klobuchar legislation specifies that data from an EDR may not be retrieved in any state unless:

  • Authorized by a court of law
  • The vehicle owner or lessee consents to the data retrieval
  • The information is retrieved pursuant to a NHTSA recall and all personally identifiable information is not disclosed
  • The information is retrieved in determining the need for emergency medical response following a motor vehicle crash (used in vehicles equipped with Advanced Automatic Crash Notification systems)
  • The information is retrieved for traffic safety research

Oh man, I was all excited there except for that first one about “authorized by a court of law”. Talk about a loophole big enough to drive an F-750 dump truck through. It would be one thing if we lived in the world of the Dirty Harry movies where activist hippie pinko judges were always letting serial killers go because Harry Callahan transposed the date of birth of a witness to the crime or something like that.

CALLAHAN: Your honor, I have this scumbag on video bragging about how he killed those women.

PINKO JUDGE: I don’t see you reading him his Miranda rights twice on that video.

CALLAHAN: It’s earlier in the tape — rewinds — right there, you can hear me Mirandize him right after he and his attorney signed the statement saying he did the crime and he walked us to the crime scenes to point out how he did it.

PINKO JUDGE: (thinks for a moment) Welll, Officer Callahan, your VHS videotapes might fly in another courtroom, but here we use Betamax. I’m hereby dropping all charges against — what did you say your name was?

THE SAN FRANCISCO RAPE-STRANGLER: The San Francisco Rape-Strangler, Your Honor.

PINKO JUDGE: Yes, yes the San Francisco Rape-Strangler. Mr. Rape-Strangler, accept the apologies of the court, and the home address of that stenographer you’ve been drooling over.

THE END

But modern judges in the United States of American Homeland Security are more like the judges in that movie “Brazil” who are ready to consent to rectal searches of persons to be named later. So I’m not sanguine about the protection of any bill that specifically allows for the court to circumvent it. But we’ll see. This is a good first start. If you agree, contact your legislator.

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NHTSA Submits Rear Visibility Rule to White House, May Mandate Backup Cameras http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/nhtsa-submits-rear-visibility-rule-to-white-house-may-mandate-backup-cameras/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/nhtsa-submits-rear-visibility-rule-to-white-house-may-mandate-backup-cameras/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 15:34:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=691562 backup-camera

After several delays, on Dec. 25th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted a proposed revised regulation to the White House that could mandate automakers to equip cars and light trucks with backup cameras. According to Automotive News, the regulation will be part of new rear visibility standards for passenger vehicles sold in the U.S and the rationale for the backup cameras is to prevent children from being injured or killed by drivers that don’t see them behind their cars when traveling in reverse. NHTSA estimates that backup cameras would save about 100 lives a year.

No details on the planned standards have been released yet. Their submission to the White House was spotted on a White House database that tracks the rulemaking process. They could mandate cameras or may allow automakers to comply using redesigned mirrors or electronic sensors. The notice confirms what former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last year, that the administration intends to release the final rule by January 2015.

The release of a final rule, part of implementing the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, enacted in 2008, has been delayed four times since the original deadline at the end of 2011. Congressional backers of that legislation blame the delays on the White House, saying that it rejected NHTSA’s original 2010 proposal that would have required all new light vehicles to be sold with backup cameras by 2014. Since then, backup cameras have become more common as navigation screens capable of displaying a camera feed have proliferated. Some automakers have made backup cameras standard equipment on some models and in the case of Honda, across their entire U.S. lineup.

Still, many cars and light trucks are not available with the safety feature and auto safety advocates have pressed for the regulations. In September, Consumers Union, the advocacy wing of Consumer Reports magazine, filed a lawsuit to compel the Obama Administration to make backup cameras part mandatory. Scott Michelman, an attorney at the group Public Citizen, which supported the lawsuit, said at the time, “When Congress ordered this rule issued in three years, they meant three years, not seven.”

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October Sales Briefly Slowed Due To Shutdown http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/october-sales-briefly-slowed-due-to-shutdown/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/october-sales-briefly-slowed-due-to-shutdown/#comments Mon, 28 Oct 2013 10:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=636289 east-brunswick-nj-jeep-dodge-chrysler-dealership-1024x768

What has the shutdown (and near-meltdown) of the United States government wrought in its wake? Delayed unemployment reports, a belated spotlight upon the broken ACA website, and of course, apprehension among customers looking for their next car to lease or buy. But now that the cans have been kicked hard down the road… again, the showrooms are back in business as if our elected leaders hadn’t gone mad in the first place.

According to Automotive News, sales forecasts for the month of October are expected to rise 12 percent, with an estimated 15.4 million vehicles to be sold by the end of the year. The shutdown brought an end to a 27-month consecutive streak of gains as the auto industry climbed out of the Great Recession, but analysts such as Edmunds’ senior analyst Jessica Caldwell might view the bickering as a mere speed bump:

It looks like the government shutdown ended just in the nick of time. The week-by-week data suggest that consumers started to get jittery by the middle of the month. But with the government back to work, most lost sales should be made up in the latter half of the month, and the industry’s momentum will continue the pace it enjoyed before the disruption in Washington.

While things seem rosy for all those “December to Remember” big red bow tie extravaganzas to come, that new Lexus will soon come to a stop at the same cans that were just punted early in October. In a statement made by industry forecaster LMC Automotive Senior Vice President of Forecasting Jeff Schuster, though he expects annual sales to go over 16 million units in 2014, “there is a higher risk that consumer confidence could be distracted again in the first quarter if, as expected, the debt-ceiling gridlock returns.”

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WaPo: Kill The EV Tax Credit! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/wapo-kill-the-ev-tax-credit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/wapo-kill-the-ev-tax-credit/#comments Mon, 02 Jan 2012 22:34:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424080

An op-ed piece in  The Washington Post praises the wisdom of Congress that refused to renew the 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit for corn-based ethanol and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol, thereby exposing alcohol to the rough treatment of the market. Also not extended was the tax credit for installing a charger at home or in a commercial location.

The WaPo thinks killing the $6 billion incentive to turn corn into fuel, and letting EV owners buy their own charger was righteous, but only a half-measure. Congress should have finished the job and should have finished handing out $7,500 tax credits to buyers of EVs. The WaPo thinks it’s a waste, and the technology is going nowhere.

 “Evidence is mounting that President Obama was overly optimistic to pledge that there would be 1 million EVs on the road by 2015. Electric cars are not likely to form a significant part of the solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil, or to global warming, in the near future. They simply pose too many issues of price and practicality to attract a large segment of the car-buying public. More prosaic fuel-economy innovations such as conventional hybrids, clean-diesel cars and advanced gasoline engines all show much more promise than electrics.”

 What say you? Kill the credit or let it live?

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66 House Reps Move To Block 2017-2025 CAFE Proposal http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/66-house-reps-move-to-block-2017-2025-cafe-proposal/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/66-house-reps-move-to-block-2017-2025-cafe-proposal/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2011 20:34:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415378 The Detroit News reports that 66 US Representatives wrote to the House Appropriations Committee today to urge a measure blocking the EPA from regulating fuel economy in the 2017-2025 period. The letter, signed by 64 Republicans and three Democrats requests

A one-year ‘time out’ is necessary as EPA and (California) are setting national fuel economy standards without explicit authorization by Congress, under laws not designed to regulate fuel economy

According to the DetN, “the proposal would let the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration go forward with setting fuel economy requirements, but under the law it could only set new requirements through 2021.” And unlike past battles over CAFE, opposition this time around does not appear to be coming from the OEMs, but from NADA, the new car dealer lobby group. The only OEM to not sign onto proposed 2017-2025 standards is Volkswagen, which is reportedly in talks with regulators over the proposal.

Meanwhile, environmental groups lashed back at NADA, with a number of groups sending a letter to the lobbying group arguing that

These standards are supported by major automakers, the United Auto Workers, California and other clean car states, and numerous consumer, environmental, business and national security organizations. By continuing to oppose these standards, NADA is trying to sell Congress, dealers and the American people a lemon

The response from dealers?

Dealers face the customer every day and fully understand what will happen if vehicle prices rise $3,000 to $10,000. None of the organizations that sent this letter, DOT (Department of Transportation) or EPA, fully understand the cost of these fuel economy increases and the impact that it will have on auto sales.

The revived debate comes just days after Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl argued that proposed regulations failed to take consumer preference into account. With Rep Darryl Issa attacking CAFE and GHG regulation on all fronts, and with plenty to criticize in the proposed standards, expect this debate to rage on.

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US House Committee Blasts National Toll Road Bank Proposal http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/us-house-committee-blasts-national-toll-road-bank-proposal/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/us-house-committee-blasts-national-toll-road-bank-proposal/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2011 14:31:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414723

A top congressional leader on Wednesday made clear his opposition to President Obama’s idea of spending $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank (view details). The bank, part of the White House jobs bill, would offer public subsidy for the financing of “public private partnerships” — which most often would take the form of a toll road. The chairman of the US House Transportation Committee said at a hearing the president’s plan would not advance.

“A national infrastructure bank is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” Chairman John Mica (R-Florida) said. “If you want a recipe to put off job creation, adopt that national infrastructure bank proposal.”

Opponents called the proposal a “distraction” from the issue of a long-term highway program reauthorization bill which would include funding for state-level toll road banks. Already, thirty-two states have their own infrastructure banks which have financed $6.3 billion in loan agreements along the same lines as the proposed federal bank.

“Many people are skeptical that bureaucrats in Washington would have any idea which transportation projects are most deserving of receiving a federal loan,” Highways and Transit subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan, Jr (R-Tennessee) said. “This skepticism is why Congress has already established the state infrastructure bank program in SAFETEA-LU.”

In addition, the US Department of Transportation already provides federal credit for transportation projects under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which has offered $8.4 billion in project finance. Dozens of other financing mechanisms are offered by the Federal Highway Administration.

“Why build one when you could build two for twice the price?” Representative Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) said sarcastically.

Democrats offered the only backing for the bank idea.

“Before Wall Street destroyed the economy, I had said, ‘Well, I really don’t see the need for an infrastructure bank — most of the states have good credit and they can go out and borrow on their own at very good rates,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). “But that isn’t the case any more. The states need guarantees, they need help, many are against their borrowing limits, and most of the banks generously bailed out by Congress — not by me, I didn’t vote for it — aren’t lending. Credit and bond markets are tight.”

DeFazio only supports the use of the bank only for water, sewer and energy projects. He does not support tolls on existing interstates.

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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Chevy-Dealing Congressman: “There Is No Market” For The Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/chevy-dealing-congressman-there-is-no-market-for-the-volt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/chevy-dealing-congressman-there-is-no-market-for-the-volt/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2011 22:27:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414608

In addition to being a representative from Pennsylvania, Republican Mike Kelly is also a Chevrolet dealer whose family has sold Chevys since 1953. But in recent hearings on government fuel economy ratings, he laid into his brand’s green halo car, the Chevy Volt with surprising zeal. Or, not-so-surprising, when you realize that he decided to run for congress in the wake of the bailout-era dealer cull.

I’m a Chevrolet dealer… we have a Chevy Volt on the lot, it’s been there now for four weeks. We’ve had one person come in to look at it, just to see what it actually looks like… Here’s a car that costs $45,763. I can stock that car for probably a year and then have to sell it at some ridiculous price. By the way, I just received some additional information from Chevrolet: in addition to the $7,500 [federal] tax credit, Pennsylvania is going to throw another $3,500 to anybody foolish enough to buy one of these cars, somehow giving them $11,000 of taxpayer money to buy this Volt.

When you look at this, it makes absolutely no sense. I can stock a Chevy Cruze, which is about a $17,500 car and turns every 30 to 40 days out of inventory… or I can have a Volt, which never turns and creates nothing for me on the lot except interest costs… So a lot of these things that we’re seeing going on have a tremendous economic impact on people who are being asked to stock them and sell them. There is no market for this car. I do have some friends who have sold them, and they’re mostly to people who have an academic interest in it, or municipalities who are asking to buy these cars.

With dealers like that, who needs competitors? Seriously, Kelly even says he fired the guy who ordered a Volt for his dealership… which he then counts against the Volt’s job creation record. Hit the jump for the rest of his quote.

I can tell you… as far as job creation, the guy who ordered that Volt for my store is no longer in that job. So it actually worked against him. I was told that the reason that car is on our lot is that General Motors told him he had to stock it. I said “let me understand. I told you that under no circumstances were you to order a Volt,” and he said “yeah.” “So, why did you order it?” “Because General Motors told me.” “Is this the same General Motors that tried to take my Cadillac franchise from me? These are the guys you’re listening to, but the guy who signs your paycheck doesn’t have as much influence as the guys who tried to take away the franchise?”

So clearly Kelly has his reasons for disliking his business partners at GM, but bashing a car that Chevy managers insist is a brand-building halo is still surprising. In any case, this somewhat rambling but fascinating critique eventually led to question “do you see any market for this car at all?” directed at Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl… who first took the opportunity to defend the Volt.

Well, there’s a little bit of good news. First, you mentioned that it did create some traffic for you, albeit one person. But that is something the car companies tout, that these vehicles do attract some interest, some traffic, not necessarily buyers. And let me also say, the Volt is actually a very nice vehicle. We actually bought one ourselves, it’s in the long-term fleet… people actually enjoy it.

But then came the bad news.

The problem that I think you’ve outlined is really twofold. One of them is that there are all sorts of inducements for people to be buying these vehicles… and yet when you look at whose been buying these vehicles, and there are people buying them, they are at the very high end of the demographic scale… Right now we’re seeing people who would have bought that vehicles anyway, without a tax credit, getting the tax credit at the expense of other taxpayers, and you have to wonder about the wisdom of that.

The second part of the Anwyl’s critique would have to wait, because after getting in one last knock at the Volt, Kelly was out of time. Rep Jackie Speier (D-CA) was next in line, and she jumped on Kelly’s Volt-bashing, telling him

First of all, to Mr Kelly, send that Volt to California! It doesn’t have to stay on your lot, because there is a waiting list in my district, at my Chevrolet dealership, of six months to get a Chevy Volt.

To which Kelly replied,

Give me the name of the dealer, and I’ll send it out there right away. If he’ll pick up the transportation cost, I’d love to do that.

The name was exchanged, and jokes were made about bipartisanship and “working together.” Then the partisan back-and-forth continued. You gotta love Congress.

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Anwyl: CAFE Proposals “Ignore Consumers” Who Are “Not On Board” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/anwyl-cafe-proposals-ignore-consumers-who-are-not-on-board/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/anwyl-cafe-proposals-ignore-consumers-who-are-not-on-board/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2011 21:33:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414605

The Congressional Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending held hearings this week on proposed CAFE standards, as part of Chairman Darryl Issa’s investigation of the regulations. The first panel’s testimony can be seen in its entirety in the video above (all prepared testimony can be found in PDF format here), and it’s worth watching. Though the predictable D.C. partisanship certainly shows up, Anwyl’s testimony was the highlight the hearing, being a tough but fair analysis of the standards. Hit the jump for a brief roundup.

The panel in question had two clearly partisan witnesses: Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But the contributions of both Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl and Ohio-based independent trucker Scott Grenerth were authentic and revealing, despite being very different in content. While Grenerth provided a ground-level perspective on practical issues with new truck emissions regulation (which is not really our department here at TTAC), Anwyl provided the most germane testimony for students of the passenger car industry: a critique of the lack of consumer input in new standards.

His argument is not complicated, and his submitted testimony (along with graphs and commentary) can be found here. In his own words,

I have three points to make this morning.

The first is that — up until now — consumers have been either ignored or misrepresented.

The second is that consumers matter.

The third is that consumers are definitely not on board.

In support of his first point, Anwyl cites the EPA’s own presentations which list environmental groups, auto firms, technology suppliers, labor unions, governmental agencies and EV charging firms as “stakeholders,” without ever referring to consumers. He goes on to argue that

I know there have been polls showing consumers “want” higher mileage standards. These polls are worse than meaningless; they are grossly misleading. Instead of polls, we should first and foremost be guided by what consumers are actually doing; by actual purchases.

And, argues Anwyl, consumers are not buying cars for fuel efficiency. Using Edmunds.com market data and its proprietary market simulator (which looks to be fairly strong considering Edmunds’ strong record in our new Grade The Analysts feature), Anwyl shows that even among subcompact purchases, fuel economy maxes out as a 15% vehicle attribute weighting. In every segment, fuel economy is a less-important attribute than “brand.” Moreover, Anwyl points out that consumers expect a 12-month return on investment in fuel-saving options like hybrid drivetrains, when in fact they tend to run much longer than that (6-9 years for Camry, for example).

Anwyl sums up

I do have some good news: looking back, the auto industry seems to have delivered the impossible. They have added features, increased safety, elevated performance—and delivered increased fuel economy. Much of this during a period when CAFE standards were stable. I credit mostly the advance of technology and expect this progress to continue. But if mandates trigger an escalation of prices, a reduction in consumer utility or the adoption of technologies before they have been proven, consumers will react. We saw this play out before in the late Seventies and early Eighties when the domestic auto industry, torn between mandates for greater fuel efficiency and consumer demand for larger vehicles, introduced a generation of truly awful vehicles. The reputational damage from this era lingers today.

Push too far, too fast and we could easily destabilize an industry that is a vital engine of our collective prosperity.

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Witchgraph http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/witchgraph/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/witchgraph/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2011 18:51:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413508  

Remember when cars, especially Toyotas, suddenly had a mind of their own, started accelerating, leaving their drivers helpless and hapless? It was in the beginning of 2010. The media cited scores of allegedly killed people. Source: The NHTSA complaint database. When complaints skyrocketed, the media wrote about a dramatic increase of complaints. Now, have a look at the graph above.

This graph was compiled by Edmunds. It is a simple report. It shows the number of all complaints about all cars of any manufacturer per month. We see that in February 2010 the number of complaints exploded, it was high in March, and then consolidated at a slightly higher level than at the end of 2009. In a straight line analysis, the complaints should be approximately where they are.

Then why the jump in February and March 2010? It was the height of the witch-hunt. The height of the fakery on ABC News. It was the fools hearings on the hill.

When that was over, suddenly, as if driven by ghosts, the cars behaved again. After Toyota had been declared ghost-free by the NHTSA in February 2011, there was even a little dip in the reports. Then, all fell back to normal.

For those who are still desperate to read something into this crowd-sourced list, here a little table, also courtesy of Edmunds. It shows the YTD complaints trough August 2011, along with the rolling 12 month market share, for the top ten recipients of complaints. As you can see, things are pretty much as they should be. People seem to complain a lot about Chrysler though…

Brand YTD Share
Ford 3,303 15.9%
Chevrolet 2,820 14.0%
Toyota 2,092 11.2%
Honda 1,157 8.4%
Nissan 1,484 7.3%
Dodge 1,757 5.4%
Hyundai 788 5.0%
Jeep 1,547 3.1%
Volkswagen 581 2.4%
Chrysler 842 1.6%

Witch-hunts had been with us since ancient times. In Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Saudi Arabia, people are still tried and sentenced for witchcraft. The graph you are looking at shows that witch-hunts are alive and well in America.

 

 

 

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EPA Inspector General Questions GHG Emissions Science, Issa Attacks On All Fronts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/epa-inspector-general-questions-ghg-emissions-science-issa-attacks-on-all-fronts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/epa-inspector-general-questions-ghg-emissions-science-issa-attacks-on-all-fronts/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2011 01:59:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413095

In a report released earlier this week [PDF], the EPA Inspector General criticized the Technical Support Document for the portion of greenhouse gas regulation dealing with “Endangerment,” or the possible effects of greenhouse gasses. Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. summed up his office’s findings [PDF], writing

The OIG evaluated EPA’s compliance with established policy and procedures in the development of the endangerment finding, including processes for ensuring information quality. We concluded that the technical support document that accompanied EPA’s endangerment finding is a highly influential scientific assessment and thus required a more rigorous EPA peer review than occurred. EPA did not certify whether it complied with OMB’s or its own peer review policies in either the proposed or final endangerment findings as required. While it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA’s finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all required steps for a highly influential scientific assessment. We also noted that documentation of events and analyses could be improved.

Oy vey. Greenhouse gas science controversy. So, what’s the problem really about?

The question basically comes down to the way the EPA assesses outside data, and whether data assessments were worthy of the Technical Support Document (TSD)’s importance. Or, to put it into DC style “summary.”

In our opinion, the TSD was a highly influential scientific assessment because EPA weighed the strength of the available science by its choices of information, data, studies, and conclusions included in and excluded from the TSD. EPA officials told us they did not consider the TSD a highly influential scientific assessment. EPA noted that the TSD consisted only of science that was previously peer reviewed, and that these reviews were deemed adequate under the Agency’s policy. EPA had the TSD reviewed by a panel of 12 federal climate change scientists. This review did not meet all OMB requirements for peer review of a highly influential scientific assessment primarily because the review results and EPA’s response were not publicly reported, and because 1 of the 12 reviewers was an EPA employee.

EPA’s guidance for assessing data generated by other organizations does not include procedures for conducting such assessments or require EPA to document its assessment. EPA provided statements in its final findings notice and supporting TSD that generally addressed the Agency’s assessment factors for evaluating scientific and technical information, and explained its rationale for accepting other organizations’ data. However, no supporting documentation was available to show what analyses the Agency conducted prior to disseminating the information.

But, there’s one more thing that the Inspector General wants to make perfectly clear:

We made no determination regarding the impact that EPA’s information quality control systems may have had on the scientific information used to support the finding. We did not test the validity of the scientific or technical information used to support the endangerment finding, nor did we evaluate the merit of EPA’s conclusions or analyses.

Accordingly the major Republican attack on the back of this report hasn’t been on the basis of GHG regulation science, but at procedural issues, most especially concerning transparency. With more than a dash of the requisite economic populism. In a statement today, House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa argued

Improved fuel efficiency is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, the path pursued by the Obama Administration has the potential to increase vehicle costs for consumers, reduce passenger safety and ultimately impact American jobs. We cannot afford job-killing regulations forced through the process without regard to these consequences at a time of economic vulnerability. Further, there are real questions about the transparency of new standards negotiated in secrecy without adequate public input or concern for jobs and consumer choices.

With the news that they have delayed the release of these standards until November, it would seem the Administration is having difficulty fitting a pre-determined conclusion driven by outside special interests and the California Air Resources Board into the statutory structure created by Congress.

The general conclusion of that last sentence may seem like nothing more than a twist of the partisan knife, but there’s truth there. Earlier in the year the EPA had to coax CARB into waiting for “studies examining the technological and financial ramifications” before announcing new CAFE standards, indicating that the recent delay of the new rule until mid-November could be related to those studies. And this EPA Inspector General report just adds fuel to that fire. On the other hand, the DetN reports that the Obama Administration has already addressed Issa’s transparency concerns, noting

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told Issa the government will conduct a traditional rule-writing process.

“The agencies have made clear that they intend to conduct a public rulemaking with additional opportunity for public comment,” she wrote in the Sept. 8 letter obtained by The Detroit News that has not been made public.

But Issa’s not just going after the EPA. Bloomberg reports he’s taking on NHTSA (the other agency tasked with writing CAFE) as well. Issa fired off a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in which he thundered

“I am concerned about the negative impact these standards could have on the safety of automobiles, the possibility that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acted outside the scope of congressionally delegated authority and the lack of transparency in the process leading up to the agreement”

Transparency? Scope of powers? Not my department. Safety? Well, there again Issa has done his homework. As an EPA supplemental Notice Of Intent notes

for the 2017-2025 NPRM, NHTSA and EPA will conduct an analysis of the effects of the proposed standards on vehicle safety, including societal effects. CARB is undertaking and coordinating with EPA and NHTSA on a study of how a future vehicle design that incorporates high levels of mass reduction complies with vehicle safety standards and voluntary safety guidelines. NHTSA is also initiating a new study of the feasible amount of mass reduction based on a mid-size passenger car platform, and the effects of several advanced mass reduction design concepts on fleet safety. The NHTSA studies are being coordinated with EPA, DOE, and CARB.The agencies expect that several, but not all of these studies will be completed in time to inform the NPRM. Others are expected to be completed in time to inform the final rule [Emphasis added]

In other words, Issa is concluding that a delay in the final rule could be related to this study… which could affect safety. But lets face it, cars have never been safer… and unless the EPA has a mess on its hands with this report, this could easily end up being seen as what the kids call “concern trolling.” And some will likely conclude that’s the case based on the sheer scope of Issa’s assault on GHG regulation. Issa also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today, in which, Bloomberg tells us

Issa also questioned the EPA’s role in writing a previous fuel-economy rule that takes effect next year, saying it negotiated with automakers around the same time General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC were getting U.S. bailout money. The timing “heightens the concern that the administration used the promise of taxpayer dollars to obtain GM and Chrysler’s support for the new fuel economy standards

This is probably the bridge too far. Issa has been harping on that theory for well over a year now, and it’s got him nowhere. And no surprise: the Obama Administration has always given the auto bailout a thin green veneer, so a successful investigation by Issa would only prove that the greenwashing had something behind it. Furthermore, the CAFE rules he’s talking about are riddled with loopholes,  and the subsequent version is even more riddled, and with larger loopholes. And that jives with what I’ve heard from industry lobbyists, who generally downplayed CARB’s power to pull the White House to the left, let alone the White House’s ability to set impossible standards. The line I got was that overhauling GM and Chrysler gave the government a “look under the hood,” which helped it see the OEM perspective on regulation.

Be that as it may, Issa is launching investigations into how the EPA and NHTSA handled auto GHG emissions regulation, adding to his ongoing investigation of the Obama Administration’s role in CAFE [PDF letter of investigation here]. He says his staff will “further review” the “serious questions” raised by the EPA Inspector General’s report. Say what you want about the guy’s politics, when he moves on something, he moves on something. And he’s definitely earning his title as Obama’s “Annoyer-in-Chief.”

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